berlin, je t’aime

Cher Fannie,

Speaking of Nazi’s… I woke up at 3:30 am this past Saturday morning to catch a taxi to catch a flight from to Berlin! Before this little adventure, I’d actually never considered going to Germany – it’s not on the list of Unanimous Sims Family Member Travel Destinations, I can’t and would prefer not to speak the language, and, well, like, what’s in Berlin?  Didn’t they, like, tear down that famous wall? Oh, silly American born after 1985, what do you know about The Cold War, about Adolf Hitler and Checkpoint Charlie? Much more than I did before this weekend. Previous historical uncertainties aside, I had good friends going and it seemed like an opportunity to expand my personal map of “Europe” that is essentially France, Italy, Switzerland, and Greece: a land of rolling hills where everyone speaks MY language and loves wine and cheese.

en route

cabin 14 (hostels recall bunks of summer camp and being the oldest person in attendance by 6 months or so, i was promoted to the position of counselor)

Needless to say, I learned quite a bit in 48 hours, so I’ll resort to Life Lessons (a la memoirs from Positano) to elaborate.

Life Lesson 1: In January, in Berlin, it is winter. This became clear upon landing as I realized that all of those white blobs were not actually clouds anymore, but the ground itself. All in all, our feet never tread on an actual sidewalk the whole weekend because everything (everything) was covered in a two-inch layer of ice. It became typical to slip and skid when walking; we wore tights under our leggings and under our jeans and purchased woolen socks; we came to compare the whole freeze-outdoors-defrost-indoors cycle to snowskiing. At one point, I actually borrowed a plastic handled seat from a nice German lady on a big hill and went SLEDDING (PLEASE watch the video with your head sideways:!/video/video.php?v=10100112218035973&subj=1518928) in-between the Berlin wall and a giant makeshift electro remix spontaneous dance party on a snow-laden basketball court.

Life Lesson 2: red wine is even BETTER when heated with mulling spiced and called “gluehwein” and when sold outside of aforementioned giant flea market. It’s also legal to drink anywhere at any time in Berlin (as is public sex so long as no children are within eyeshot – very little is illegal in Berlin, though they will yell at you ferociously for jaywalking). They also sell Jack Daniels and Coke in pre-mixed cans for 3 Euros at the corner store and beer for cheaper than bottled water.

Life Lesson 3: It is quite possible to eat authentically and often in Germany without knowing any of the language and when wishing to avoid gluten*. I am happy to report that I like German food immensely! From schnitzel (giant pounded veal served like a good chicken fried steak (or chicken fried chicken, my personal favorite) to a bowl of sweet and translucent and earthy and quite purple beet soup (no, I did not mean to order that, but I licked the bowl), to half of a pickled and roasted pig’s head on a platter with horseradish sauce (FACT. And it was undoubtedly the most succulent meat I have ever tasted. And it was also an accident.). Oh, the fun of ordering a 15 letter dish that you cannot pronounce with absolutely no hint of its ingredients!

that would be a glistening bowl of warm beet soup

Life Lesson Four: History is real. And, accordingly, not many things in Berlin are real. Being the spoiled little Frenchy architecture wizards that we are, our first impressions were marked by uncertainty and disappointment. Can all these brutalist and brightly painted slab buildings be the real Berlin? What happened to the old stuff? Aren’t we in lovely Europe? “Museum Island” where they keep the fancy artwork housed a smattering of Renaissance style mansions, and our NewBerlin Free Tour met in front of the Brandenburg Gate, but it’s certainly no Paris. That being said, our tour guide on Sunday was the spriteliest fellow you’ve ever met and taught us, or me at least, why there was still so much to feel and love (not many 26 year-olds from Maine can say that they speak German and give 3.5 hour historical tours of Prague, Berlin and Amsterdam). He was five feet of pure joy and quelled all of our frozen concerns historical anecdotes in the would-be shadows (were the sun out) of the city’s structures. We saw the controversial Peter Eisenman Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (awkwardly exclusive of other persecuted persons –  a field of rolling concrete slabs in proportions relative to the human body – like coffins of all different heights that you can walk through) that I thought was one of the most chilling and sensitive memorials I’ve ever seen, the parking lot above where Hitler’s Bunker used to be (purposefully unmarked), Checkpoint Charlie (the Disneyworld of Berlin – completely commercialized) and parts of the Berlin Wall.

our tour guide in front of the hotel from whence michael jackson dangled a baby once

a snowman competition to promote environmental awareness (build and watch them melt by global warming) in front of a 20th century building that was built to look old

The Berlin Wall. It crops up everywhere in the city, little pieces here and there and an often a tread of double bricks in the street where it used to stand. Parts are covered in graffiti that my friend Katie aptly called the kind that “makes you love grafitti” – blues and yellows and swirling amoeba cartoons – and parts are left with gaping wounds to show the desperation of those wanting to get through to the West. In its final version, the wall was actually two: concentric circles that surrounded Socialist-governed East Berlin to keep its residents from fleeing to the West. The walls were poured in thin concrete slabs and reinforced with steel to keep cars from smashing through them. And if you did get through one, there was a sharpshooter every kilometer to make sure you didn’t get through the other. It stood for 28 years. I have to say, I didn’t really understand…

the wall

And now? Berlin is currently and utterly broke: there are empty lots and empty buildings smattered about the downtown, and you can buy food for a fourth of what it costs in any other European city. Taxes are inordinate. But the life force in Berlin is underground, and I think that’s what makes it so addictively mysterious. The thing is, we were told that even now many Germans are ashamed to be openly patriotic after the wars and resort to regional patriotism – meaning, Berliners, for example, LOVE Berlin and love to say so. Sure, even though most of their classical buildings were built in the 20th century and their rampant scaffolding is always a cartoon depiction of the building to come, the people we met couldn’t be happier to be a part of the life-force therein. More than Parisians love Paris (Parisians love being Parisian) and Amurcans love gleaming Walmarts. Berliner’s have turned graffiti into a life-giving art, have created a night-life scene that apparently dominates all of Europe, and welcome American tourists into their spontaneous dance parties in their neighborhood with warm wine in the snow.

5 jelly filled donuts for 2 Euro – not so much in Paris

THE flea market where I purchased a "collector's item"I Love Michael Jackson pin for 5 Euros - and attached it to my longchamps bag - in Berlin, this is normal

It’s weird, but it’s humble and honest and real and awesome. No fluff, in a resfreshing way for Europe. I mean, our subway stop was called Frankfurter Allee, and the way to say I love you is “Ich liebe” (pronounced eeeekgh leebee). That’s what I’m yelling at the end of the sledding video – ICH LIEBE, BERLIN!

ich liebe, berlin!



* upon talking to my doctor last week concerning some tests taken pre-paris, it has been determined that I am allergic to GLUTEN. yes, lee ellen, it is deeply ironic. no, it is not fun to live in paris and not eat the pastries/baguettes. yes, I’m still alive. no, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.


~ by soleilsphere on February 3, 2010.

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